Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Labor’s conference all talk no action

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Labor Party’s national conference was held in Adelaide in December. In his address Labor leader Bill Shorten said that they wanted to “earn the trust of the Australian people by working to rebuild the fair go as a bedrock principle”.

Unfortunately, this statement was not borne out by the policy announcements that followed. It will no doubt prove to be just another one of Shorten’s mealy-mouthed utterances.

The standout policy was a plan to introduce subsidies for investors who build new ‘affordable’ housing. In line with Labor’s market-driven agenda, this is a pitch to property developers and landlords.

The plan to build 250,000 new dwellings in ten years will not make a significant dent on the housing crisis. Property investors are largely responsible for the problems in the housing sector, yet Labor panders to them. That these capitalists are Labor’s second largest political donor should not be lost on anyone.

Significantly, there was no announcement of an increase in public housing. And there were no policies announced to deal with the biggest issue renters face – exorbitant rents. The fight for rent control will need to be taken up to the Labor Party if they do indeed come to power at the next election.

Shorten promised to empower workers to pursue thieving employers through the courts for unpaid superannuation. At present the tax office is relied upon to police the bosses on this front, but it is largely ineffective. Workers currently lose about $6 billion in unpaid super per annum!

While any improvements are welcome, this proposal will not solve the problem of dodgy bosses declaring bankruptcy to escape their responsibilities. What would address it is a government operated national superannuation insurance scheme with employers having to make payments regularly into the scheme, whereby most noncompliance could be quickly detected. A guaranteed living wage for retired workers should be taken from the profits of big business, with all workers entitled to receive it.

Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson, Brendan O’Connor, said that a Labor government would allow workers to pursue pay claims against multiple employers “where enterprise bargaining has failed or is failing”.

The truth is that enterprise bargaining has failed virtually the entire workforce. Labor have not yet made it clear if a new set up would be just for low paid workers lacking industrial power, or for all workers. Bosses have the right to organise across the supply chain, workers should have this right as well.

Clearly a party that had workers’ rights as its central concern would develop a policy to build the strength of the union movement. That Labor refuse to commit to allowing the full right to strike shows where their real loyalties lie.

Tampering with the Fair Work Act has limited capacity to deliver decent pay increases if matters only need to be ‘considered’ by the Commission. A real workers party would short-circuit all this by simply enacting minimum and equal pay laws.

Shorten announced a review into Newstart to be handed down within 18 months of taking office. He however rejected calls for an increase from the current $275 per week payment.

Shorten’s rejection of an increase to Newstart makes a mockery of his intention to “rebuild the fair go”. It seems the needs of property developers and landlords far outweigh the needs of the unemployed according to Labor.

The conference pledged to deliver 50% more renewable energy by 2030 and that a New Environmental Protection Agency would be established to regulate development approvals. But incredibly Labor remained silent on the question of the future of the Adani coal mine.

How disingenuous is it to allow the biggest coal project in the world to go ahead while pretending to care about the environment?

On refugees, the conference did agree to end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. They also said they would improve the medical transfer process to make sure sick people get the care they need. An amendment to fast track the assessment process lost by just three votes.

These modest proposals however were overshadowed by Labor’s ongoing commitment to boat turnbacks, offshore detention, and mandatory detention as a whole. Where’s the ‘fair go’ in that?

Overall the event was lacklustre, with virtually no real debate. It was a conference bereft of any serious proposals to deal with the major issues that working class people face. It was all talk and no action.

If Labor come do come to power in 2019, we will wait with bated breath to see if any of these very modest policies are actually implemented. Even if some do manage to get over the line, they will do very little to improve our lives.

What the event definitely demonstrated was the desperate need for a real party of the working class in Australia.

By Michael Naismith


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